Dress from The Seven Year Itch part of auction of Hollywood memorabilia collection amassed by actor Debbie Reynolds..
"Oh, do you feel the breeze from the subway? Isn't it delicious?" The words were uttered by Marilyn Monroe in the 1955 film The Seven Year Itch as she stood above a New York subway grate and gusts of subterranean air lifted her white dress well above the knee.
But the sentiment could equally have been expressed by fellow actor Debbie Reynolds as the dress, which was auctioned along with the rest of her collection of Hollywood memorabilia, vastly surpassed expectation. As the gavel went down in Los Angeles at $4.6m (£2.8m), Reynolds hugged her family and raised two thumbs to the auction crowd.
Crafted in a more innocent age, when the mere sight of bare leg and exposed white underwear was enough to send people flocking to the cinemas, the image of Monroe as the girl in the wind-blown dress is one of the most memorable in film history.
The garment was designed by William Travilla and was made from rayon-acetate to give it sharp pleats.
"I wondered what could I do with this most beautiful girl that Marilyn was to play to make her look clean, talcum-powdered, and adorable," he once said.
Reynolds was reported to be in tears as the sale was closed, which is unsurprising as she was parting with her collection of some 3,500 items of memorabilia she had amassed over four decades. "I've been collecting for 45 years and I'm only 40," she told the audience.
The actor acquired the dress in 1971 when she bought all of Monroe's wardrobe as it was off-loaded by the studio 20th Century Fox. But the upkeep of the items drove Reynolds increasingly into debt, and she failed to find a museum prepared to take the collection in its entirety.
Among the other items sold were the racing clothes worn by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1944 film National Velvet, which went for $60,000, as well as her headdress from Cleopatra. Taylor had given Reynolds many of the objects in the collection.
A dress and a pair of ruby slippers worn in a screen test for The Wizard of Oz by Judy Garland sold together for $1.75m; and Charlie Chaplin's bowler hat, as worn in The Little Tramp and other films, went for $135,000.
Hollywood may come to rue the day that the Reynolds collection was broken up and distributed around the world. Several of the buyers were from Saudi Arabia and Japan.
Randy Habercamp of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who attended the auction but did not buy, said: "Well it happened to the treasures of Greece. It happened to Italy. I guess now it's our turn."